Community Commentary Sea Notes

Treasures from the sea

There’s nothing like a walk by the sea at dawn. Even if I’m not surfing, I love the smells and the sounds and watching everything including pelicans, dolphins and other surfers glide over morning glass while the rest of the world is barely waking up or still dreaming about riding waves.

The world becomes new as the birds dive for fish and the plovers play tag with the little waves, the fish compete for crabs and surfers push their way into the lineup in search of treats of their own. I often think I should be out there, riding waves with them, but these days, morning is mostly walking, thinking, praying and looking amid the seaweed and the garbage.

I look at the shapes of beach rocks worn smooth by time and tide as I plan the rest of my day. Sometimes I’ll encounter an old friend along the route and sometimes I’ll make a new one. Just like the sea, the sand beneath my feet forever changes. Only one thing remains sadly constant ⎯ the trash littering the beach: everything from bottle caps and plastic bags to helium balloons line the sand or are trapped in stands of seaweed.

June is the heart of balloon season because of graduations and weddings. Many of the balloon fly away and end up in the oceans or on the beach. Photo by Chris Ahrens

I must look pretty odd by the time I am finished walking, my pockets stuffed with deflated balloons and my hands holding numerous other discards that somebody forgot to pick up. But did they really forget? If they forgot, you would think there would be a few diamond rings, watches or cell phones in the mix. But no, it’s just wrappers, cans and other items of no value. So the reason must be something other than forgetfulness.

With graduations and weddings in that month, June is the heart of balloon season. Now, don’t get me wrong; there are few adults in the world who love balloons more than I do. I give them to my grandson. I blow them up and let them fly around the room. I punch them and I pop them. Of all these activities, popping is the most important. That’s because hydrogen filled balloons are carried far over the ocean and are often mistaken by baleen whales or lesser sea animals for food. The results can lead to death or severe health problems.

I don’t really want to chase people down because they let a balloon go, so, my idea, as I have often suggested in this column, is that all balloons be made from something that will dissolve in a few days after contact with water. Should be a law, right?

Until such a law is passed, please be certain to pop balloons, no matter how much fun they are to watch flying away. Your kids will get it if you explain that their moment of joy is nothing compared to the death sentence they could be passing on to some unsuspecting sea creature.

In other surf news:

Have you noticed how much surf there’s been this year? Not really big, but consistently decent sized and with good to great conditions. Of course that cold La Nina water has been something else. Still, worth the dip for the stoked. Wetsuit sales have been brisk (pun intended).

Chris Ahrens is a surfer and author of four books on surfing. Email him at